The Popularity of the Word ‘Positive’ and Five Reasons we Should Reduce its use

‘Be positive’. It’s a modern mantra which promises the secret of living a life of happiness. But perhaps it’s time to drop this fashionable rhetoric. Here are five reasons why:

  1. Life is not an emotionally binary experience

Humans are sentient complex creatures. We do not experience the world in binary terms as suggested by the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. They are extremely limiting words that overly simplify the way we experience the world. Why limit yourself by labeling your entire existence as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

2. The definition is unclear and subjective

I’ve never understood what is meant by the word ‘positive’. Are we asking people to be ‘content’, ‘like it and lump it’, ‘see the good in a bad situation’ or to pretend to be  ‘happy’ when they’re not? The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as ‘feeling happy about your life and your future’. Greater clarity is required.

3. It is unsustainable and unnatural to be happy all of the time 

As mentioned above, ‘positive’ is frequently used as a synonym for being ‘happy’. For me, ‘happiness’ is a fleeting emotion. For example, if I read that a missing pet had been reunited with its owner I might experience happiness. It is a temporary emotion incurred by experiencing something important to me. It doesn’t accumulate like compound interest in a snow-ball effect ten years later. It is a currency spent there and then. The rest of the time, I’m not necessarily sad or unhappy either – just not jumping for joy in ecstasy for no fathomable reason every waking moment.

4. This is not always a helpful way to view the world

It is healthy, normal and helpful to be pessimistic. Without it, there would be no contingency plans. Nothing vital would be addressed if we went around being ‘positive’ all of the time expecting the best possible outcome. A glass might be ‘half-full’ but it’s not very useful to consider the ice caps as half-tall rather than half defrosted by global warming. 

5. It’s ok to not be ok

As a first class pessimist, it’s an inextricable part of my character. It motivates my reading, writing and creativity. It keeps my mind curious. It drives me on to improve myself and the world around me by acknowledging imperfection. I find it narrow-minded that these features would be criticised as incorrect or ‘negative’ simply because it doesn’t adhere to the values of ‘positive’ ideology.

Next time somebody tells you to ‘cheer up’ or to stop being ‘negative’ because it ‘might not happen’, perhaps you should ask them to be positive about your negativity.

Are there any commonly-used words that you think should be reduced in everyday vernacular?

4 thoughts on “The Popularity of the Word ‘Positive’ and Five Reasons we Should Reduce its use

  1. Hi there! I totally agree with your post – I don’t think it’s sustainable to be happy all of the time. And sometimes, it’s not even appropriate to be happy! Happiness is not a tag you can pin on yourself on a daily basis. Happiness, like anything else in the world, takes effort, especially in dire situations. I suffer from depression and I know what my triggers are and sometimes, that trigger can be happiness itself in the sense that it makes me feel even worse because I can’t share that feeling. And you’re not supposed to! It is okay to not be okay some of the time. Great post! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment and honest candour 🙂. I was inspired by pianist James Rhodes discussing the ‘pursuit of happiness’ being written into the American Constitution. He argues that ‘mental illness’ is simply part of the human condition and the quest for perpetual happiness is an unconquerable paradox (link below) 🙂

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/ideas/videos/were-not-meant-to-be-happy-all-the-time/p05tl7t3

      Liked by 1 person

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